Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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WESTMINSTER ABBEY.—THE CHAPTER HOUSE, CLOISTERS, DEANERY, &c.
A Benedictine Monastery—The Chapter House—Its former uses—Its Restoration—The Chapel of "The Pyx"—Robbing of the Treasury—Littlington Tower—St. Catharine's Chapel—The Little Cloister—The King's Jewel House—The Great Cloister—Burial-place of the Abbots—Ashburnham House—The Deanery—Jerusalem Chamber—Henry IV.'s Death—Restoration of the Jerusalem Chamber—The Building used as a Chapter House and Convocation House—Biographics of the Principal Deans—Precautions against Fire.
It has been observed by Mr. Spalding, in his work on "Italy," that "a mediæval monastery with its courts and cloister, its several buildings announcing their destination by their position—this of the superior, that of the dependent; this public and accessible, that private, with its garden, and its environing wall—was the successor of the Roman villa urbana." But such a statement as this would argue gross ignorance, and a mind incapable of appreciating the real theory of the monastic life. It is scarcely necessary to do more than state here that the "religious life," in some shape or other, dates from the first century of the Christian faith. It was only by degrees, however, that it developed itself in the Church, the hermits and recluses of the earlier ages abounding in Egypt and the countries nearest to the Holy Land. St. Benedict, who founded the noble monastery of Monte Casino in Italy in A.D. 530–32, is generally regarded as the founder—though in reality he was only the re-founder and reformer—of the monastic system in the Western or Latin Church. His rule was brought into England by St. Augustine; and if not before, at all events soon after, the Norman Conquest, the chief and wealthiest abbeys in our country were those of the Benedictines—Glastonbury, St. Albans, Abingdon, Canterbury, Westminster, &c. In fact, in a certain sense, nearly all the well-known monasteries followed the rule of St. Benedict, whether they were Cistercians, Carthusians, Cluniacs, or whatever the name of their discipline; it is said that all our cathedral priories, except Carlisle, were of the Benedictine order, and that the revenues of the Benedictine abbeys exceeded those of all the rest of the religious bodies put together.
"Water, a mill, a garden, an oven, &c.," says Mr. Wood, in his "Ecclesiastical Antiquities," "were provided within the precincts of a Benedictine monastery to prevent necessity arising for the monks going abroad. When any of the monks were about to start on a journey, they obtained the prayers of the community; on their return, the wayfarers sought pardon for anything of which they had been guilty on their way, by neglecting the custody of their eyes, or ears, or by indulging in idle conversation."
Although most of the buildings appertaining to the "inner life" of the monastery at Westminster have disappeared, there is still much left that is interesting; for, besides the church itself, which is substantially the same now as it was before the Reformation, many of the other ancient parts of the Abbey still remain. For instance, the Chapter House and the Cloisters are both entire; and the same may be said of the Jerusalem Chamber.
Leaving the abbey church by a doorway at the east end of the south aisle, we are led by a descent of several steps to the north-eastern corner of the cloisters. Passing along the east walk, a doorway on the left will be found opening into the outer vestibule of the Chapter House.
"The chapter house in England," writes the Rev. Mackenzie Walcott, "was almost essentially a national peculiarity, unlike the alleys or oblong rooms which take their place on the Continent, forming the conventual or capitular Parliament House, and a distinctive and splendid building. That of Westminster is of considerable archi tectural history; firstly, because it replaces the round Chapter House erected by Edward the Confessor, and is of a polygonal form, like that of Worcester, these two being the only exceptions to the Benedictine rule of building rectangular chapter houses; and secondly, because it is built (almost exceptionally) over a crypt, the only other instance being at Wells, that of St. Paul's having perished in the Great Fire; and this crypt embodies the original structure of the Confessor."
Sir G. Gilbert Scott, in writing on the Chapter House at Westminster, says it "singles itself out from other beautiful works as a structure perfect in itself, of a purely English type as to its plan and outline, and as carrying out the principle of window tracery in a fuller and grander degree than any part of the church." It is evident from the actual building accounts which have been preserved that the Chapter House was erected in A.D. 1250–53, so that it formed part and parcel of the original plan of the church, though a separate structure; and this date agrees with that of "La Sainte Chapelle" at Paris, the windows of which are of a similar style; "thus showing that our English architecture was running a pretty parallel course with that of France."
The shape of the previous Chapter House, which stood on the same spot, cannot be determined. The present building stands over a crypt which may or may not have belonged to its predecessor. It is approached from the outer cloister by an outer and an inner vestibule; the former of limited height, owing to its passing under the dormitory; the latter lofty, and containing the flight of steps by which the raised level of the Chapter House is reached. The outer vestibule is divided into two walks by small columns of Purbeck marble, and the arch in the cloister by which we enter it is exquisitely carved. The bosses in this vestibule are also elaborate. The inner vestibule is divided into two unequal bays, pierced on both sides with windows; those on the northern side, however, look not into the open air, but towards the altar of St. Faith in the revestry.
The building is an octagon, the diagonals of which measure sixty feet; in other words, it is an octagon, inscribed in a circle of that diameter; it is loftier than most other buildings of the same kind. The central pillar is of Purbeck marble, consisting of a column surrounded by eight detached shafts: it is lofty and light, and the groining which shot up from it has been restored according to the original pattern by Sir G. G. Scott. Each side of the building is occupied by a spacious window, which fills nearly the whole width between the corner shafts. These windows are generally of four lights; the mullions are of Purbeck marble, and the heads filled with large circles and quatrefoils. The spaces beneath the windows are arcaded, with five arches in each, of a trefoil form and richly moulded. The five arches against the eastern wall are much richer and more deeply set than the others. They probably formed the seats of the five greater dignitaries of the Abbey—namely, the abbot in the centre; the prior and subprior, and the third and fourth priors. The seats all round are of stone, and on the backs of these is a series of paintings of religious subjects in a sadly mutilated condition, but as they are fully described by Sir Charles Eastlake in his work on oil paintings we need not pause on them in detail. The entire building, although loftier than the Chapter House at Salisbury Cathedral, is less rich in ornament, and probably a little earlier in date of erection; the two, however, are so like that no doubt the one suggested the general plan of the other. There is an excellent description of the building in a volume of papers read by Sir G. G. Scott at the London Congress of the Archæological Institute in July, 1866, and published by Mr. John Murray under the title of "Old London." In that paper the general architect expressed his doubt as to the possibility of "any approach being made to the correct restoration of the Chapter House." But since that date all difficulties have been surmounted; and although the rich painted glass which once threw its tints upon the tessellated pavement below has not been replaced as yet, still the groining of the lofty roof has been renewed, and the exterior has been freed from the wooden and stone encumbrances which for so long a period of vandalism and ignorance observed the beauty of its Gothic details, and mutilated its fair proportions. The crypt below is comparatively plain, and of no great height; and there can be little doubt that it was formerly used as a chapel.
The chapter-house, as is well known, was the place where the monks and other dignitaries of monastic buildings met to transact the general business of their order; but that at Westminster has its political as well as its religious associations. Here, by consent of the then abbot, in 1377, the Commons of England first held their meetings, as part of the King's Parliament; and here they continued to hold their sittings until 1547, when Edward VI. granted them instead the use of St. Stephen's Chapel.
It appears that in the reign of James I., if not sooner, the records of the King's Bench and the Common Pleas were deposited in this place, and from that time down to the close of the year 1859 the records continued to increase. It is said that much damage was done to the Chapter House in the time of the Civil Wars. The old groined roof was standing in 1740. Remonstrances had been made to the Government, who were the custodians of the place, in consequence of its dangerous condition, some time before. At the above date certain surveyors reported that it was necessary to pull the structure down, and put up a new one. This report was, fortunately, not acted upon; and in the year 1744 upwards of £600 were expended on those repairs, which destroyed in a great measure the ancient appearance of the building. In 1862 the Dean and Chapter of Westminster called a meeting to take into consideration the steps which were desirable in order to call public attention to the ruinous condition of the Chapter House, with a view to its restoration; nothing, however, seems to have resulted from this meeting, and in 1865 another meeting for the same object was convened by the Society of Antiquaries. Dean Stanley, who was voted to the chair, having related the early history of the Chapter House, and alluded to the fact that it was the place of meeting of the first House of Commons, said: "I shall not go through the history of the House of Commons, during the 300 years that it sat in this Chapter House, but still it is impossible not for a moment to recall the extraordinary interest of the Chapter House in that connection, and to remember that almost all the struggles for liberty against the Crown must have taken place within these walls. There is one instance in which they met in the refectory to impeach Piers Gaveston, in the time of Edward II., but as a general rule we may feel satisfied that here took place those early struggles; and as the Commons sat here down to the time of Henry VIII., one may also figure to oneself that here also took place all the memorable acts of the first epoch of the Reformation. It is perhaps worthy of note that the last occasion on which the Commons sat in this house was the last day of the life of Henry VIII., and that their last act here was the attainder of the Duke of Norfolk. In 1547 the Commons moved to the Chapel of St. Stephen, within the walls of Westminster Palace, which had become vacant by the suppression of the Collegiate Chapel of St. Stephen's, Westminster. During the previous 300 years the Abbey must have exercised a kind of divided control over the Chapter House, for no doubt the chapter of the monks met here when the House of Commons was not sitting. But in 1547 the jurisdiction passed entirely away from the Chapter, and came exclusively into the possession of the Crown. In 1540, when the Abbey was dissolved, the Chapter House became absolute public and national property, and the Dean and Chapter that were created on their present footing by Queen Elizabeth never could have entered this Chapter House by right for the performance of any of their business. I believe," continued the Dean, "it is not quite clear where they held their chapter meetings from their first foundation, but it was probably in the Jerusalem Chamber, which is called in legal documents 'our Chapter House.' In 1547, therefore, we enter upon the third stage of its history. In the reign of Edward VI., or of Elizabeth—it is not quite clear which—the building was appropriated for the public records. Then commenced a course of ruin and dilapidation for which the Government must be considered responsible, and which it is the object of this meeting to press them to repair. No doubt these frightful cupboards are nothing but deformities; but, nevertheless, they once contained everything most interesting in English history. Up to the present day there is a board in Poets' Corner, outside the building, bearing this inscription—'All parcels and letters addressed to Sir Francis Palgrave at the Chapter House are to be forwarded to the Rolls' Court.' And here I may relate a story which Sir Francis himself told me. On the night of the great fire at the Houses of Parliament he and Dean Ireland were standing on the roof of the Chapter House, looking at the flames, when a sudden gust of wind seemed to bring the flames in that direction. Sir Francis implored the Dean to allow him to carry 'Domesday Book' and other valuable records into the Abbey, but the Dean answered that he could not think of doing so without first applying to Lord Melbourne. And this leads me to the fourth period. Three or four years ago the records were finally removed to the Rolls Court, and from that time the Chapter House has been left in the state in which you behold it. It is national property, but it has not been put to any national use. Now, it is obvious that before anything can be done with it it must be restored, not by the Dean and Chapter, for it never belonged to us, though if the Government will undertake to give it to us we will endeavour to preserve it as best we can. But, in the first instance, it must be restored to its original magnificence, and to the nation. That is the request we have to urge, and I now appear before you not as claiming anything for ourselves, but as demanding, in the name of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster and of the people of England, that the Chapter House should be restored to the state in which it was during the period when the House of Commons occupied it, and that it should be freed from the incumbrances no longer necessary now that the records have been deposited elsewhere. This, the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Chapter House, and the 600th of the foundation of the House of Commons, is the very time to make the request, and the Government, I hope and believe, are not indisposed to lend a willing hand to a request coming from so venerable and important a body as the Society of Antiquaries. Mr. Gilbert Scott is willing to set before you the manner in which the restoration of the building is to be accomplished; so, with all these convergences of times, persons, and dispositions, I trust this meeting will not have been held in vain."
That this meeting was more successful than its predecessor will be at once inferred, when we state that early in the following year the sum of £7,000 was voted by Parliament for the restoration of the Chapter House; the work was placed in the hands of Mr. (now Sir) G. Gilbert Scott, who had devoted much of his time to the acquisition of a knowledge of the details of the Abbey in every part; and the result of his labours, it need hardly be added, has fully justified the appointment.
For many years prior to 1859, the Chapter House was used as a repository for the Public Records, among which was the original "Domesday Book," so familiar to every child who has read the history of our Saxon and Norman kings. "Though above seven hundred years old," wrote Pennant in 1790, "it is still in as fine preservation as if it was the work of yesterday."
This great work, together with the other public records that encumbered the place, was removed in the year 1859 to the new Record Office in Chancery Lane. For many years this portion of Westminster Abbey had been allowed to fall into decay; it was filled from the floor to the ceiling with presses and galleries in which the deeds and other documents were stowed away. The old encaustic pavement was boarded over, and to this cause we are, perhaps, indebted for its preservation. The central pillar, from which sprung the groined roof, remained; but in other parts of this octagonal building terrible mischief had been done. The original windows, the same in size and general arrangement as they now appear, had been in some instances removed, and the space filled up with brickwork.
Close by the Chapter House is the Chapel of "the Pyx," an ancient vaulted chamber, formerly the depository of the regalia of the Scottish kings, including the Holy Cross of Holyrood. Dean Stanley thus writes concerning it: "In the eastern cloister is an ancient double door, which can never be opened, except by the officers of the Government or their representatives, bearing seven keys, some of them of large dimensions, that alone could admit to the chamber within. That chamber, which belongs to the Norman substructions beneath the dormitory, is no less than the Treasury of England. Hither were brought the most cherished possessions of the State." (fn. 1)
This chamber, as Mr. J. Timbs tells us in his "Romance of London," was once "the scene of a glorious haul by way of the robbery of about two millions of our money by certain folks, amongst whom the abbot and forty of his monks fell under suspicion, and were sent to the Tower. This money (£100,000) had been laid up for the Scotch wars by Edward I."
At he time of the Commonwealth, the Pyx Chamber seems to have been in the occupation of the Dean and Chapter, and upon their refusing to deliver up the keys to the officers of the House of Commons, the doors were forced open, and an inventory of the regalia was made. These were afterwards sold, and though subsequently recovered by the Crown, they were never restored to the custody of the Abbey, but at the time of the Restoration they were transferred to the Tower. The Pyx Chamber still remains in the exclusive occupation of the Crown. In this chamber is a stone altar that seems to have escaped destruction by the fanatics at the time of the Reformation and the great Civil War. The groined roof is supported by Romanesque or semi-circular arches, and thick, short, round shafts. The keys of its double doors are now deposited with seven distinct officers of the Exchequer.
The gloomy-looking passage which extends southward by the door of the Pyx Chamber is known as the "dark cloisters," and leads to a small enclosure called the "Little Cloister." Here is the Littlington Tower, which was built by Abbot Littlington, and originally the bell-tower of the church. In it were four bells, which were rung when great meetings or prayers took place in St. Catherine's Chapel; a small flag being at the same time hoisted on the summit of the tower, as appears in Hollar's view. A writer of the fourteenth century says:—"At the Abbey of St. Peter's, Westminster, are two bells, which over all the bells in the world obtain the precedence in wonderful size and tone." We also read that "in the monasterye of Westminster ther was a fayr yong man which was blynde, whom the monks hadde ordeyned to rynge the bellys." St. Catharine's Chapel was in part pulled down in the year 1571; the bells (one dated as early as 1430) were taken down, and, with two new bells, were hung in one of the western towers of the Abbey Church. In Littlington Tower lived the noted Emma Lady Hamilton, when servant to Mr. Dare. The building, we are told by Mr. Timbs, "was restored by its tenant, Mr. R. Clark, one of the choir, who also erected in its front the original Gothic entrance to the Star Chamber Court, and its ancient bell-pull."
The Little Cloister is a square enclosure, having a fountain in the centre, surrounded by an arcade supported by plain semi-circular arches. At the south-eastern corner are the remains of St. Catharine's Chapel. It now serves as the entrance-hall to one of the canon's residences; and part of the north end has been partitioned off so as to form a passage to the residence on the east side. According to Dean Stanley, St. Catharine's Chapel was several times before the Reformation used for episcopal consecrations, and also as the meetingplace of the principal Councils of Westminster.
Not far from this interesting remnant of the old monastery, and near the south-eastern corner of the Abbey precincts, is an ancient square tower, which, as we learn from Dean Stanley's "Historical Memorials," is supposed to have served the purposes of a monastic prison, but which was sold by the Abbey to the Crown in the last year of Edward III. It bears in its architecture a striking resemblance to those parts of the Abbey which are known to have been built by Abbot Littlington. It was first devoted to the purposes, and for many years bore the name, of the King's Jewel House. It then became the Parliament Office, and was used as a depository for Acts of Parliament. In 1864 these Acts were removed to the Victoria Tower, in the new Houses of Parliament; but the grey fortress still remains, and, "with the Treasury and the Chapter House," as the Dean tells us, "forms the triple link of the English State and Church with the venerable past." This tower is now used as the depository of the standards of weights and measures, both old and new, in connection with the "Trial of the Pyx" (see Vol. I., page 357).
The Great Cloister is immediately contiguous to the south side of the nave of the Abbey Church. The northern and western sides of the cloisters were built by Abbot Littlington, who died in 1386. He also built the granary, which afterwards became the dormitory of the King's Scholars. By the Benedictine rule the monks were required to spend much of their time in the seclusion of the cloisters; and there the day of the month was proclaimed every morning after "prime" by the boys attached to the monastery. The old grey cloisters, with groined arches of the fourteenth century, surround a grassy area—"monastic solitude in contrast with the scene on the opposite side of the church."
The north walk of the cloisters is spanned by the buttresses of the nave, and at either end are entrances to the church. In the south walk are the remains of a lavatory, and towards the east end of this walk are the graves of some of the early abbots, but the memorials of only four are visible, namely, Vitalis, who died in 1082; Gilbert Crispin (1114); Lawrence, said to have been the first who obtained from the Pope the privilege of using the mitre, ring, and glove, and who died in 1175; the fourth slab is of black marble, called Long Meg, from its extraordinary length of eleven feet, and covers the ashes of Gervase de Blois, a natural son of King Stephen, who was appointed abbot in 1140 and deposed in 1159. In 1349, twenty-six of the monks of this abbey fell victims to a plague which was then raging, and they are reported by old Fuller to have been buried all in one grave in the south cloister, under the slab above alluded to. The humbler brethren of the monastery were mostly buried under the central plot of grass in the cloisters.
A small wooden door in the south walk leads
to Ashburnham House, one of Inigo Jones's few
remaining works. Close by the entrance to Ashburnham House is a monument to Peter Francis
Courayer, a Roman Catholic clergyman, librarian
and canon of the Abbey of St. Genevieve, at Paris.
He translated and published several very valuable
works on the validity of English orders; but his
writings not being favourably received by members of his own Church, he took refuge in England
in 1727, and was warmly received by the University
of Oxford, who conferred upon him the degree of
D.D. He died in 1776, at the age of ninety-five.
There is in the east walk a monument to Sir
Edmundbury Godfrey, who was murdered in the
reign of Charles II., and a tablet to LieutenantGeneral Withers, with an epitaph said to be by
Pope. In the north walk lie buried Dr. Markham,
Archbishop of York, who died in 1807 and also a
former Bishop of St. David's; and there are here
a few memorial tablets of no particular interest,
unless perhaps we select one dated in 1621, remarkable for its quaintness, and inscribed to the
memory of William Laurence, in these lines—
"With diligence and truth most exemplary,
Did William Laurence serve a Prebendary;
And for his pains, now past, before not lost,
Gain'd this remembrance at his master's cost.
Oh! read these lines again!—you seldom find
A servant faithful, and a master kind.
Short-hand he wrote, his flower in prime did fade,
And hasty Death short-hand of him bath made.
Well couth he numbers, and well measur'd land;
Thus doth he now that ground whereon you stand,
Wherein he lies so geometrical;
Art maketh some, but thus will Nature all."
About the year 1630, Dean Williams, afterwards Archbishop of York, spent a considerable sum in repairing the most decayed parts of the church; he also, says Dugdale, converted a room in the east part of the cloisters, which had been the monks' parlour, into a library which he furnished with books.
It does not appear that the nave and cloisters, though the last resting-places of so many eminent persons, were treated with due respect in the reign of Queen Anne. At all events the following occurs in the Acts of the Dean and Chapter, under date May 6th, 1710: "Whereas several butchers and other persons have of late, especially on market days, carried meat and other burdens through the church, and that in time of Divine service, to the great scandal and offence of all sober persons; and whereas divers disorderly beggars are daily walking and begging in the Abbey and cloisters; and do fill the same with nastiness, whereby great offence is caused to all people going through the church and cloisters; and whereas many idle boys come into the cloisters daily, and there play at cards and other plays for money, and are often heard to curse and swear: Charles Baldwell is appointed beadel to restrain this, and to complain of offenders, if necessary, to a justice of the peace. And it is further ordered that if any boys that go to the grammar school, or are choristers of the church, do play there, the beadel do forthwith give in the names of such boys to one of the masters, that they may be punished according to their fault."
Ashburnham House, in Little Dean's Yard, as stated above, was built by Inigo Jones. Its chief beauty is a magnificent staircase. In this house was deposited the Cottonian Library (now in the British Museum), which had a narrow escape of being destroyed by fire here in 1731. One of the most important works in this library was the Customs Book of the Abbey, written by Abbot Ware in the thirteenth century. This volume has always been said to have been destroyed in the fire above alluded to, but its parched and shrivelled leaves have been preserved in the British Museum, and a few years ago underwent a restoring process by means of which the whole has become legible. Dean Stanley has had a copy made, which is deposited in the Abbey Library.
In the garden is an alcove, also attributed to Inigo Jones, in imitation of part of a small Roman temple. In the coal-cellar are some remains of the vaults of the old conventual buildings, and in one of the walls may be seen a capital of the Early Norman period. The house, however, contains nothing else striking or important, and is chiefly memorable as having been at different times inhabited by Dean Milman and Dean Ireland. The garden between the house and the cloister occupies the site of what once was a hall or refectory or dormitory, as is shown by the deeplysplayed windows which are still to be seen in the wall rising far above the spring of the arches of the cloister roof. The house is now occupied by the Sub-Dean, Lord John Thynne.
The present Deanery, a substantial building of stone, occupies part of the site, and, indeed, is formed partly out of the ancient abbot's house, which enclosed a small court or garden lying to the west of the cloisters. It is one of the most curious buildings in the Abbey precincts. Over the doorway is a stone shield carved with the arms of the Deanery, namely—Azure, a cross patonce between five martlets, four in the cantons of the cross, and one in base, or; on a chief of the last, a pale quarterly of France and England, between two roses, gules. Dart, in his "Lives of the Abbots of Westminster," says that Abbot Islip built the Dean's House and offices to the monastery; Dean Stanley, however, in his "Historical Memorials of Westminster," ascribes its erection to Abbot Littlington, with a slight addition by Abbot Islip. The doorway is close by the entrance to the cloisters from Dean's Yard. It stands round a small court, into which for the most part its windows look. Only from the grand dining-hall and its parlour there were originally windows into the open space before the Sanctuary. It was commonly called "Cheyney Gate Manor," from the conspicuous chain which was drawn across the entrance of the cloisters. Skirting the west side of the cloister are a suite of modern apartments and the dining-room. On the south side was the Abbot's long chamber, now the Dean's library; this is immediately above the entrance to the cloisters. The kitchen occupied the south-west corner, and extending thence to the Jerusalem Chamber was the abbot's refectory, now the college hall. Till Dean Buckland introduced a modern stove, this noble apartment was warmed by a huge brazier, of which the smoke escaped through a "louvre" in the roof.
The Jerusalem Chamber, to which we now
make our way, was built by Abbot Littlington,
towards the latter end of the fourteenth century;
and it is supposed to have been either the
"Guesten hall" or the abbot's withdrawing-room.
It is known to every reader of English history
and of Shakespeare, that in this chamber died
King Henry IV., soon after an attack of illness
which seized him whilst paying his devotions at
the shrine of Edward the Confessor. It is scarcely
necessary to repeat here the well-known lines of
Shakespeare, and yet their omission would be
"Henry. Doth any name particular belong
Unto the lodging where I first did swoon?
Warwick. 'Tis call'd Jerusalem, my noble lord.
Henry. Laud be to God! ev'n there my life must end.
It hath been prophesied me many a year
I shall not die but in Jerusalem;
Which vainly I suppos'd the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber: there I'll lie;
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."
With reference to the death of Henry IV. in this chamber, Pennant remarks, on the authority of Brown's "Fasciculus," that "the devil is said to have practised such a delusion on Pope Silvester II., having assured his Holiness that he should 'die in Jerusalem,' and kept his word, by taking him off in 1003, as he was saying mass in a church of that name in Rome."
In 1719 the body of Joseph Addison lay in
state in the Jerusalem Chamber, before its burial
in Henry VII.'s Chapel, as pictured in Tickell's
"Can I forget the dismal night that gave
My soul's best part for ever to the grave?
How silent did his old companions tread,
By midnight lamps, the mansions of the dead:
Through breathing statues, then unheeded things;
Through rows of warriors, and through walks of kings."
Here, too, Congreve lay in state, before his pompous funeral, at which noblemen bore the pall; and here, also, a similar honour was paid to the body of Matthew Prior, for we are told in the Daily Post of September 24, 1721, that "the same evening the remains of Matthew Prior, Esquire, were carried to the Jerusalem Chamber, and splendidly interred in Westminster Abbey.
The exterior of the Jerusalem Chamber is not particularly attractive, and with its dwarf proportions it seems a sort of excrescence on the west front of the Abbey, from which it leads in a southward direction towards the Deanery. Between the years 1871 and 1874 the interior underwent a thorough restoration. Its walls are covered with ancient tapestry, and with cedar panelling; the fireplace is fitted with an antique grate, and the surrounding surface is covered with very handsome tiles, ornamented with a pattern combining roses and lilies, with the briars and the stems of each respectively, while around, in mediæval characters, are the three texts: "O pray for the peace of Jerusalem," "Build thou the walls of Jerusalem," and "Jerusalem which is above is free." The old Jacobean carving on the wall over the fireplace is retained; at the top is an admirably executed painting of the death of Henry IV. in this very chamber, with the line from the above quotation, "In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."
The Jerusalem Chamber has been used as the Chapter House, probably, ever since the Abbey gave up its proper Chapter House to the Crown. Here, then, it may not be out of place to make some mention of the "staff" of the Abbey—or, rather, cathedral—for, as we have shown in a previous chapter, its duties are performed in all respects similar to any other cathedral body. The deanery is in the gift of the Crown; the Dean, whose power is absolute in these walls, has a salary of £2,000 per annum; he is also Dean of the Order of the Bath. There are six canons, one of whom is also sub-dean, and eight minor canons, a chapter clerk, organist, besides vergers and choristers. The patronage which is vested in the Dean and Chapter of Westminster embraces the minor canonries, and extends over twentyfour benefices. Under the charge of the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey, and forming part of their especial charge, is Westminster School, or, to speak technically, "the College of St. Peter." As a school for the young was always a leading feature in every monastery, and especially in those of the Benedictine order, there can be no doubt that there was a school attached to the Abbey of Westminster in the old Saxon times. It was re-founded by Queen Elizabeth, who contrived, through the fulsome adulation of her courtiers, to get herself regarded as its founder, and it dates its precedence among the public schools of England for 1560. This school, however, will form the subject of our next chapter.
Besides being the place for the transaction of business by the Dean and Chapter, the Jerusalem Chamber is the place of meeting for the members of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury. In theory, the Church of England is governed by means of its Convocation of Bishops and Clergy; but, practically, Convocation is at present little more than a merely deliberative body. Still its moral influence is great, and no wise minister would venture to disregard its deliberately expressed opinion. There is a House of Convocation for each province, Canterbury and York. That of Canterbury consists of two Houses: the upper is confined to the bishops; the lower is composed of the deans of every cathedral, the archdeacons, with proctors elected from every cathedral chapter, and two more elected by the clergy of every diocese. In York there are two Houses, but the bishops, deans, archdeacons, and proctors sit together. A fresh election of proctors is made with every new Parliament.
The Jerusalem Chamber is also to be remembered as the scene of the labours of the committee appointed by Convocation in 1870 to revise the "authorised version" of the English Bible—labours which have occupied four years.
On the suppression of the bishopric of Westminster, in the year 1550, the diocese was reunited to the see of London. "The lands of this bishopric," says Widmore, "were several of them exchanged with Ridley, just then made Bishop of London, for some belonging to that bishopric. Ridley had also the convicts' prison, a house between the west end of the Abbey and the gatehouse; the bishop's palace, formerly the abbot's house, was given to the Lord Wentworth; a small parcel of lands was sold to Bishop Thirleby; several granted to one Sir Thomas Wroth, and others, said to be applied to the repair of St. Paul's, and to occasion the saying of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul.'" Bishop Thirleby is reported to have impoverished his bishopric very much by granting long leases of the estates. He was, immediately after his surrender, translated to Norwich, and thence, some years afterwards, to Ely.
We may add here, with reference to the suppression of the bishopric, that, under date of 1550, Strype, in his "Ecclesiastical Memorials," says that "the Church of Westminster, nearer to the King's house than any other, was not yet freed from its superstitions, both in apparel and books, which were still preserved there, which occasioned a letter, dated in February, from the King and his Council to the members of that church, 'that, in the presence of Mr. Vice-Chamberlain and Sir Anthony Aucher, all manner of garnishments and apparel of silver and gold, such as altar-cloths, copes, &c., should be taken away, and delivered to the said Sir Anthony; and to deface and carry out of the library at Westminster all books of superstition, such as missals, breviaries, processionals, &c.'" Widmore, too, informs us that "in May, 1553, the commissioners for gathering ecclesiastical goods carried away from hence all the plate and furniture of the church, except a silver pot, two gilt cups with covers, three herse cloths, twelve cushions, one carpet, eight stall cloths for the choir, three pulpit cloths, a little carpet for the dean's stall, and two table cloths."
Between the abolition of Westminster as a cathedral city by Henry VIII. and its return to monastic rule by order of Queen Mary—that is, from 1550 to 1556—no less than three deans were appointed; and from the restoration of the deanery in 1560, down to the present time, there have been upwards of twenty. Of these, some have held high preferment in the Church, or have had their names handed down to posterity through the share they have taken in political events or other matters of history. Space does not permit of our speaking of more than a few of the most important.
Lancelot Andrews, who held the deanery of Westminster when James I. came to the throne, was appointed to the bishopric of Chester in 1605, and afterwards translated to the see of Ely. In 1618 he was advanced to the bishopric of Winchester, and made Dean of the Chapel Royal. He was the author of several literary works; but that by which he is best known is his "Manual of Private Devotions and Meditations for Every Day in the Week," and a "Manual of Directions for the Visitation of the Sick." Bishop Andrews has the reputation of having been the most learned of his English contemporaries, excepting Usher, in the Fathers, ecclesiastical antiquities, and canon law. He was also celebrated for his talent at repartee, of which an instance is told in page 29, Vol. II., of this work. The good bishop is buried in St. Saviour's Church, Southwark.
Thomas Sprat, who became Dean of Westminster in 1683, was one of the original Fellows of the Royal Society, and in 1667 published its history. In 1684 he was consecrated Bishop of Rochester, and in return for the royal favours which had been conferred upon him he published a history of the Rye House Plot, entitled "A True Account and Declaration of the Horrid Conspiracy against the late King, his present Majesty, and the present Government." After the abdication of James II. an attempt was made to implicate the bishop in a pretended plot for restoring him, his signature having been fraudulently obtained; but he succeeded in establishing his innocence, after which he lived in retirement at Bromley, in Kent, till his death in 1713. Dr. Sprat was the author of a few short poems, and some other works of no great merit.
Francis Atterbury, who succeeded Dr. Sprat in the deanery, and also in the bishopric of Rochester, was a great controversialist in the reigns of Queen Anne and George I. He was a native of Milton, near Newport Pagnell, in Buckinghamshire, and was educated at Westminster School, and Christ Church, Oxford. Having taken orders, he was elected lecturer of St. Bride's, and soon afterwards nominated minister of Bridewell, where his pulpit eloquence attracted general attention. In the year 1700 he became engaged in a long controversy with Dr. Wake, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and others, concerning the rights, powers, and privileges of Convocation, Atterbury denying the authority of the civil power over ecclesiastical synods; and the zeal with which he upheld his views secured for him the thanks of the Lower House of Convocation, and the degree of Doctor in Divinity from the University of Oxford. In 1704 he was appointed to the deanery of Carlisle, and shortly afterwards transferred to a canonry in Exeter Cathedral. In 1712 he was made Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and in the following year was advanced to the bishopric of Rochester and the deanery of Westminster. On the death of Queen Anne Dr. Atterbury assumed a position of hostility to the House of Hanover, and all his energies were directed to bring about the restoration of the Stuart dynasty. This, perhaps, is the one great blot on his character, and it was the one which led to his downfall. On the breaking out of the rebellion in 1715 the other prelates published a declaration of abhorrence to it, but Atterbury refused his signature, and not long afterwards he incurred the suspicion of being deeply concerned in a succession of plots for the restoration of the ejected family. He was charged by a committee of the House of Commons with a treasonable correspondence, and the evidence against him being considered conclusive, he was committed to the Tower. The bill of pains and penalties which was passed against him by both the Upper and the Lower House "condemned him to deprivation from all his ecclesiastical preferments, incapacitated him from performing any spiritual functions, or holding any civil appointment, and sentenced him to perpetual exile." He accordingly quitted England for France in June, 1723, and after several changes of residence eventually died at Paris in 1732, in the seventieth year of his age. He was buried privately in Westminster Abbey, and no monument has been erected to his memory.
Samuel Horsley, who was installed in the deanery in 1793, was a distinguished prelate of the English Church, successively Bishop of St. David's, Rochester, and St. Asaph. He was a powerful theological controversialist, and the person against whom he chiefly directed his attack was Dr. Joseph Priestley. His published writings are very numerous, and a complete list of them is given in Nichol's "Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century." His "Seventeen Letters to Dr. Priestley" was regarded by the friends of the Church as "a masterly defence of the orthodox faith, and as the secure foundation of a high and lasting theological reputation." Soon after the publication of this work, Lord Thurlow, who was then chancellor, presented him with a prebendal stall in Gloucester Cathedral, his lordship, it is said, at the same time observing, that "those who defended the Church ought to be supported by the Church." Bishop Horsley vacated the deanery of Westminster in the year 1802, on his translation to the bishopric of St. Asaph.
John Ireland, who was appointed to the deanery in 1816, sprang from very humble parentage, and was born at Ashburton, in Devonshire, in the neighbourhood of which place he held his first curacy. He was afterwards vicar of Croydon, and promoted to a prebendal stall in Westminster Abbey. On his advancement to the deanery he was also nominated to the rectory of Islip, Oxon, which, however, he resigned some years before his death, which took place in 1842. Dr. Ireland was always distinguished by his warm patronage of learning. The University of Oxford is indebted to him for the scholarships bearing his name—four in number, of £30 per annum each, founded in 1825; and to be elected on his foundation is one of the greatest classical honours which the University can confer.
Dr. Samuel Wilberforce was next in succession to Dr. Ireland. He was the third son of the celebrated philanthropist, William Wilberforce, and was born in 1805. He was ordained as curate of Checkendon, in Oxfordshire, and his subsequent preferments were the rectory of Brightstone, archdeaconry of Surrey, the rectory of Alverstoke, a canonry of Winchester, a chaplaincy to the late Prince Consort, the Deanery of Westminster, and the post of Lord High Almoner. He was consecrated Bishop of Oxford in 1845, and translated to Winchester in 1869. Bishop Wilberforce took a prominent part in the debates in the House of Lords, and also in the Upper House of Convocation; and he was also well known as a most eloquent speaker at public meetings of a religious character. Bishop Wilberforce was accidentally killed, on the 19th of July, 1873, by being thrown from his horse.
William Buckland was nominated by Sir Robert Peel to the deanery, on the elevation of Dr. Wilberforce to the bishopric of Oxford, in 1845. In early life Dr. Buckland exhibited a marked tendency for the study of natural and physical science, and in 1813 we find him appointed to the Readership of Mineralogy, and in 1818 to the Readership of Geology, in the University of Oxford. His contributions to the "Proceedings" of the Geological Society were very numerous, and in the first volume of the "Bibliographia Geologiæ et Zoologiæ," published by the Ray Society, in 1848, there are references to no less than sixty-one distinct works and memoirs. In the year 1825 Dr. Buckland accepted the living of Stoke Charity, in Hampshire, and was promoted to a canonry in the Cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford. He twice filled the presidential chair of the Geological Society, and he also took a lively interest in the foundation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1847 he was appointed a trustee of the British Museum, and took an active part in the development of that department more especially devoted to geology and palæontology. Dr. Buckland seems not to have devoted himself to questions of technical theology. His views on this subject are chiefly contained in his "Bridgewater Treatise" and the "Vindiciæ." Amongst the list of his published works will be found but one sermon, and that devoted to the subject of death; it was published at Oxford in 1839.
Richard Chenevix Trench, who succeeded to the deanery on the death of Dr. Buckland, in 1856, is a nephew of the first Lord Ashtown, in the Irish peerage, and was born in Dublin in 1807. He graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was soon afterwards ordained, and engaged upon a country curacy. It was not, however, as a scholar or a divine, but as a poet, that his name first became known. He is also the author of a large number of essays and treatises. In 1845 and 1846 he was Hulsean Lecturer at Cambridge, and for a short time one of the Select Preachers. About the year 1847 he became Theological Professor and Examiner at King's College, London, and continued to hold that appointment till his promotion to the Deanery of Westminster. He was consecrated Archbishop of Dublin in 1864, on the death of Dr. Whately.
Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, D.D., who, in 1864, succeeded Archbishop Trench in the Deanery of Westminster, is the son of the late Right Rev. Edward Stanley, Bishop of Norwich. Educated under Dr. Arnold at Rugby, and having passed a very distinguished university career, he was for many years tutor of his college, and secretary of the Oxford University Commission. He was canon of Canterbury from 1851 to 1858; Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford, and canon of Christ Church; and also chaplain to the Bishop of London from 1858 to 1864. Dean Stanley first became known to the literary world by his admirable "Life of Dr. Arnold," published in 1844; among his most popular works since that date have been his "Historical Memorials of Canterbury," "Sinai and Palestine," and his "Memorials of Westminster Abbey," a work to which we have to acknowledge our obligations.
We may add here that every precaution is taken to ensure the protection of the Abbey from fire, the Dean and Chapter having caused to be erected in the south-west tower, at an altitude of 160 feet from the ground, a huge tank, capable of containing 6,000 gallons of water, which is always kept charged; from this tank pipes are conveyed to all parts of the edifice, with hydrants and hose always attached at every point of vantage, so that at the first alarm of fire one man would be able unaided to turn on the water to any point of danger. The entire cost of these works amounted to £2,000.
It is not generally known that soon after the Reformation the Abbey very nearly shared the fate of Tintern, Glastonbury, Reading, Kirkstall, and Malmesbury. Pennant writes, "When the Protector, Somerset, ruled in the fulness of power, this sacred pile narrowly escaped a total demolition. It was his design to have pulled it down to the ground, and to have applied the materials towards the palace which he was then erecting in the Strand, known by the name of Somerset House. He was diverted from his design by a bribe of not fewer than fourteen manors!"